Fire Mary Suhm? Not a Chance, Because the Big Money Likes Her.
Over the weekend I have been chatting with people who were all counting on their fingers. Does City Manager Mary Suhm take a powder over this month's gas drilling revelations?
They were counting their fingers secretly and spoke to me only off the record, because they know they can't win. Not that the revelations were not bad. They were. Just not bad enough.
In one, Suhm signed a deal five years ago promising to help a drilling company get the right to drill in parks, even while she was assuring the City Council there would be no drilling in parks. In the second, she took a lease to the council for final approval and failed to mention it contained something that had not been in the original draft the council was shown before -- drilling on parkland.
This book has nothing to do with Dallas City Hall, but we just kind of dig the title.
- Mary Suhm Screwed Dallas, but Now City Hall Has to Let the Gas Drillers Frack Parkland
- Mary Suhm Signed a Secret Side Deal to Push for Drilling on Parkland as She Told Council It Would Be Banned
So on the one hand, the council looks stupid. The parkland permission was in there. They didn't spot it because they didn't read the lease. Lots of people -- many of them commenting here on Unfair Park last week -- were talking in terms of the last straw. This is it. The city manager has openly duped the council. Now it's out in the open. The council will have to sack her.
Nope. Council don't gotta do nuthin'. They don't mind being dupes, as long as they get their zoning deals and their stop signs. No lawsuit really and truly frightens them: It is not their money. Meanwhile nobody could win a vote to fire Suhm, and they all know it.
The city's charter states: "The city manager shall not be appointed for a definite fixed time, but shall be removable at the will and pleasure of the City Council upon a two-thirds vote of the members of the council unless otherwise provided by contract."
We have 15 members, counting the mayor. It takes 10 votes to can her. It takes six votes to keep her where she is. By my count, Suhm has at least nine votes in her pocket, probably more like 11, possibly 12.
The first thing to know is that the powers-that-be and biggest sources of campaign money are very happy the ways things are going right now. Compared with past councils, they've got this one lined up like plywood ducks.
The powers almost certainly will want to keep Suhm where she is for a couple of years, and not because she does favors for gas drillers. The gas drillers are nobodies where City Hall is concerned. If anything, they're a bunch of doofus Goldilockses who got into the house while the bears were away and made a mess of everybody's porridge.
The key thing right now, as always, is the Trinity River project and Trinity toll road. That's where the money rides. And just lately, proponents of the toll road have been scoring big victories out of view of the general news cycle, moving chess pieces into place in long-range regional transit planning and the sequestering of money for the road. They're close to getting a prize they have sought for 50 years. The last thing they want right now is a palace coup.
The other thing is this: I spoke off-the-record to one of Suhm's biggest critics on the council over the gas deal, and that person made the point that there is no hint or suggestion of criminal mischief on Suhm's part. As my caller suggested, Suhm was only doing what she thought was best for the city. My caller didn't think it was best for the city, but that's a political debate, not a court case.
This is not an installment of The Wire. It's a whole different "get" from anything like kickbacks or bribes. Even Suhm's toughest critics on the council believe she is an honorable person. They just don't like what she does with her honor.
The basic white conservative bloc on the council is not going to vote to sack her, because voting to sack her would be, for them, way too hippie-long-hair radical. So that's the two old white guys and at least two white women. Four votes right there.
None of the black council members will vote against her, because none of them will ever vote against The Money. I looked at campaign finance reports for several council members this morning: In the January 15, 2013, semi-annual report, Dwaine Caraway got 100 percent of his money from outside his district; Carolyn Davis got 52 percent of her money from outside her district; and Tennell Atkins got 80 percent of his money from outside his district, 47 percent of it from North Dallas.
That's all coming from people who need the council to line up on their issues. Black votes are cheap, because it takes so little money to swing an election in southern Dallas. On big ticket items like Suhm's job, the black caucus will line up.
That's three more votes right there, so Suhm's already over the top by a vote. And she's going to pick up at least two Hispanic votes. The mayor will vote to keep her. In fact, Suhm would win a vote-to-fire 12-3 or maybe 13-2.
I asked people if they thought Suhm will want to stay. Again, even her toughest critics say yes. They say Suhm believes she has done no wrong and was only looking out for the city's best interests. She will never voluntarily leave under a cloud.
So what does that leave for the people who are furious over the gas drilling deal? It leaves the gas drilling deal. I talked to several people the weekend who told me I'm full of shit about the whole deal-is-a-deal can't-flake-now argument on the drilling lease the city has signed. They think the gas drilling company is into the shenanigans in this thing up to its eyeballs and couldn't win a nickel in court if they sued.
But the bottom line is this. The critics are not going to go away without blood. They know they can't get Suhm's head, and they may not really have their hearts in trying. But they do want this gas drilling deal undone, at least where parkland is concerned. So that is where the battle will go, and there is the bone The Money could throw them. "Hell no, you can't have our porridge. How about Goldilocks?"
If the drilling critics don't get a bone? Then next May it's all a big issue in the council elections. The appetite for more strong dissent on the council will be whetted, and that could be the best thing to come out of all this.